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#MeToo and shipping

#MeToo and shipping

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Birgit Marie Liodden, the director of Nor-Shipping, discusses sexual harassment in our industry in this extremely frank and important article for Splash.

As a number of industries are debating and sharing stories on sexual harassment, I have wondered when my industry will join the discussions.

With more than 11 years in shipping, I have been positively surprised on my own behalf – I’ve enjoyed a steep learning curve with plenty of opportunities and few uncomfortable incidents.

But there have been a few, and even though they aren’t too serious I know about some girls who have encountered far worse experiences, so I think it’s time to encourage this important discussion across global shipping.

I still remember how angry I became at a Norwegian broker working in London as he was harassing some younger guys during Nor-Shipping 2013. I asked him to back off in a polite way, and he responded by grabbing my breast while stating that I should keep my mouth shut as I didn’t have big enough boobs for him to bother listening to me. (I countered by patting him on his shoulder, replying that his disgusting behaviour probably was a result of small p**** complexes… And he walked away)

I also remember how extremely uncomfortable I became while working for a client in Nigeria. No problems whatsoever with Nigerians, but some of the Norwegian expats was a different story. I worked as independent consultant for an offshore shipowner, serving oil companies. And the MD of a Norwegian oil giant’s Lagos office (my client’s client) started approaching me in a way I didn’t find okay. As I politely rejected him, and tried to joke it away, he made the rest of my time quite uncomfortable. Expats typically hung out at the Radisson hotel for joint dinners, and he would openly complain (as a sulky schoolboy) in front of everyone that he’d never met such a terrible person as me. Implying that I was treating him bad, while the only thing I had done was rejecting him. Following many years of high-level power positions abroad, he was probably not too accustomed to girls daring to turn him down. Another (really old) Norwegian would remind me most evenings that I should visit and test his double bed.

At Posidonia last summer, I hung out with an employee working for one of our customers in Singapore. He apparently misunderstood some signals and wanted me to join him back at his hotel. As I rejected the offer, he started to bombard me with angry messages, calling me a whore and whatnot. I confronted him with his behaviour the next morning, and as he blamed it on being drunk, I informed him that my initial reaction would have been to inform his boss. However, I would give him the chance to improve and told him to get a grip and make sure to treat industry females with proper respect. I encouraged him to take my feedback as a warning, and informed him that if I ever heard about such behaviour from his side again, I would indeed report it to his company.

Working in an international, people-based industry is all about human interaction. A flirty or informal tone will in many cases be a natural part of this. And let’s not get completely hysterical; I don’t think male colleagues should be worried about giving female colleagues a hug, kiss on the cheek, share some dirty jokes or compliment them. What they should ensure however is to consider how to behave based on context, and adjust accordingly. If you are in a senior position and misbehave, it’s not very likely that the female junior will dare to confront you. There are some good basics to navigate by:

  • Don’t grab female colleagues by the p**sy or breasts, and try to avoid smacking their butt
  • Lay off the jokes or comments that will reduce the professional role/standing of your female colleagues
  • Never force yourself on someone
  • If you’re flirting and are rejected, be a man about it. Please skip the hurt-male-pride revenge towards the female who rejected you
  • If you are in a senior position, be aware of your power and don’t misuse it towards more junior people
  • If you are in a setting where other male colleagues behave in a manner that’s clearly making a female uncomfortable, take a responsible role and stop him. It’s much easier for you than for the woman

Start discussing this topic within your organisation and network to find out if you need to change the company culture. Ask the females about their experiences, and advise on how to improve. Awareness is the key for change.

And let’s join forces to make this amazing and exciting industry even better! Women are taking the helm across the industry like never before, and we need the best men and women to co-create a sustainable and thriving shipping community for the future.

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5 Comments

  1. Lynn Simpson
    November 28, 2017 at 9:32 am

    Dear Birgit,

    Thank you so much for opening this discussion in such an open and measured manner. This problem is rife throughout most industries, however at sea they literally have a captured audience/target. Utilising rational limitations and tactics to counteract such unacceptable behaviour will prove very useful for many women in many professions. This issue of course is not simply a female problem, many male colleagues I who have witnessed sexual harassment towards myself are also left in a difficult position, many have come to my assistance, some are too aware of the risks to their careers should they speak against a senior officer. It makes life uncomfortable for all. Thank you again for writing about such a serious, insidious and widespread issue.

    Most gratefully
    Lynn Simpson

  2. James Thatcher
    November 28, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    Birgit,

    First and foremost, thank you for sharing your story. I am sure there are many others (women and men) who would not be able to have the courage to discuss this in such an open and frank manner.

    I do however think that you do not go far enough… touching a fellow employee in any area other than a handshake, bow, or if permissible within that culture kiss on the cheek should not be tolerated (yes, friends can give a simple hug, but if you should know the person more than just an introduction). When asked for my opinion about the matter, the way I’ve explained it to my team members is “If you would not do that action with your mother or father, then don’t do it.”

    However, this is just my 2¢

  3. Anna
    November 28, 2017 at 6:27 pm

    Hello Birgit, Thank you for sharing your story, not sugar coating it and ending on a high note. I especially enjoyed your list at the end. You make us all in #WISTA very proud.

  4. Peter Nuttall
    December 1, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    Hi Birgit – timely, blunt, accurate!

    And now time to widen the debate to the whole male dominance of the industry and how this contributes to the conservative nature and speed of change – especially as we approach the critical decisions shipping must make on emissions .

    My father in law was 43 years at sea – ending up Chief for a major line. He reckons in that time he served with only 3 female crew – all stewardesses on a ro-ro ferry!

  5. Grant Brown
    December 7, 2017 at 9:41 am

    Thank you for sharing Birjit. I am appalled that so many men feel they can treat women in this way. I’m sorry for those repulsive experiences that you endured.
    I think your last point was the most important to me. If a man sees someone else behaving in an unprofessional manner – say something. We are all taught to stand up to bullies and this seems like a similar action.
    By saying nothing we are complicit in the action.